The myriad of careers where research skills matter
Opportunities for researchers arise in a wide variety of sectors, but awareness of the full breadth of potential careers in settings other than academia tends to be lacking. An EU-funded project has produced online resources to highlight a wider range of options, in a bid to benefit society, the economy and researchers themselves.
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‘Many researchers who have completed a PhD think about going on to an academic career,’ says Janet Metcalfe. ‘In order to be more successful as an economy across Europe, we want researchers to also think more about going into other sectors.’
And other sectors need to think more about ways to involve researchers. Employers are not always fully aware of the added value researchers can bring to their activity, Metcalfe points out.
The EU-funded EURAXIND project, which she led, was set up in May 2016 to help foster greater awareness on either side. It ended in April 2018, having conducted surveys to shed more light on experiences and expectations of intersectoral researcher mobility and developed toolkits for researchers and prospective employers.
Metcalfe is the head of Vitae, a non-profit programme dedicated to supporting the professional development of researchers that is part of British charity CRAC (Careers Research and Advisory Centre Ltd). The EURAXIND project was carried out in the wider context of EURAXESS, a pan-European initiative supporting researcher mobility and career development.
‘EURAXESS is expanding its activities beyond just looking at internationally mobile researchers to also supporting intersectorally mobile researchers,’ Metcalfe notes.
Other sectors beckon
Researchers work in settings as varied as industry and agriculture, public administration and non-governmental organisations, retail and the media all of which offer opportunities for researchers to build rewarding careers and make an excellent contribution to the health of the sector, says Metcalfe.
‘Research shows that having somebody with a PhD in a department increases the performance of everybody else in that department,’ she adds.
Fostering researcher careers is not necessarily the same thing as fostering research careers, she points out. Nonetheless, EURAXIND’s survey of researchers working in sectors other than academia showed that many do use their research skills. It also found that the vast majority of the 339 respondents were satisfied in their current jobs.
What employers want
Further EURAXIND surveys focused on employers, researchers in academia, and on institutions supporting researchers with career development.
‘We asked similar questions for all four audiences,’ Metcalfe explains. ‘This approach enabled us to map whether or not there was a mismatch between what employers say they’re looking for, what researchers think employers need, what institutions think researchers need for these employers, and what researchers working in occupations beyond academia say they use in the jobs that they are doing.’
Generally speaking, there was a fairly good match between employers’ requirements and researchers’ perceptions of these requirements, Metcalfe reports. Nonetheless, a few intriguing differences did emerge.
For example, according to Metcalfe, researchers contemplating the transition seemed unaware that employers tend to be more interested in research skills than in research knowledge the ability to conduct research rather than, necessarily, the cumulative insight gained from it. ‘They didn’t think employers would value that,’ she notes.
Respondents did realise that many employers look for innovation skills. However, much to Metcalfe’s surprise, most thought they did not have any to offer.
‘And yet, if you’re doing research, you’re pushing forward the barriers of knowledge, and you have to be innovative to do that,’ Metcalfe points out. Researchers, she observes, often fail to make the connection between this ability and competencies prized in many other occupations.
Findings such as these provide useful leads for action to raise awareness. They informed the development of the EURAXESS resource ‘Discover: careers beyond academia’, which provides an initial insight into the richness of opportunity observed, says Metcalfe.
However, given the number of relevant sectors and occupations, as well as the diversity of employment situations across Europe, further work and funding will be required to offer researchers the information they need to make good career decisions. It would be money well invested, according to Metcalfe.
‘Every researcher should get the opportunity to reflect on who they are, what their motivations are, what their career ambitions are, and how they could achieve them,’ she concludes. ‘This is the only way to get researchers working in highly satisfying occupations and therefore contributing as fully as they can to the benefit of society and the economy.’